Sunday, March 9

A+ Teacher Interview

As I begin a new job hunt for the first time in 7 years I have been searching the internet for all that I need to know so I am prepared.  While I was searching I started to think that there are thousands of education students who will also be graduating this May and may want advice on how to be prepared for the interview process.  I am by no means an expert on this subject and my job search for a teaching position was limited to elementary education positions in Virginia and North Carolina but I figure every little bit of information helps, so I have created a list of my experiences.  I know things are done very differently across the country so just keep that in mind as you prepare yourself for this fun and stressful part of your career! The professors at my college offered "mock interview" sessions which were VERY helpful.  If this is something your school does, don't be afraid to take advantage of it, it helped me tremendously.

Be aware that these tips are mostly geared towards those who are looking to land an elementary teaching position since that is where my experience has been. Although I haven't personally had to interview in the last 7 years I have been involved in interviewing for new staff at my school so these tips are a mix of my personal experiences and what we have looked for when interviewing for new staff. Hopefully these tips will help you ace your interview and land an exciting new teaching position!

Job Openings:  First, you need to see what's out there.  Many schools/principals don't get their allotments or the number of teachers they'll be allowed to hire for the upcoming school year until March/April.  Even after they receive their allotments, teachers choose to come and go throughout the summer so even if your favorite school doesn't have an opening now they may have one before the first day of school.  If you have narrowed down which county/district you want to work in start by going to their webpage and read all you can in the human resources department. After you check out that information you can try some of these avenues to search for further openings:
  • Job Fairs (These are typically held in March-May for the upcoming school year, especially if a school district is large and has a high turnover rate.  A word of caution about job fairs…I made a big mistake when I attended a job fair right before graduating.  I was so eager for a job, I spoke with several principals at the job fair and one of them offered me a job right on the spot.  I was so shocked that I said yes. After sleeping on it and doing a little bit of research about the school I realized that the school was not the school I wanted to be at and the position was not my ideal position, so I called the principal the next day and apologized for being so quick to react but turned the job down.  Needless to say the principal was not very happy with me and I thought I would be blacklisted in the county after that.  Luckily, I wasn't but if you are offered a job on the spot, my advice would be to say "Thanks so much for the offer, I'd like to sleep on it and get back to you first thing tomorrow.")
  • Online district/county job search engines
  • Online state job search engines
  • Call/e-mail principals (This was how I landed my current job.  I know this may seem so "old school" now with all the new electronic means of job searching and many school districts will only consider you through those electronic means, but it doesn't hurt to try. I applied through the state process so all my paperwork was in and then I started e-mailing principals at schools I knew I want to work. I attached my resume to each e-mail and just wrote a brief paragraph about who I was, when I was graduating and that I would love to speak to them if they had any openings for the upcoming school year. Luckily, they offered me an interview and then a job a few days later. )
What To Bring:  After you have landed an interview you will need to prepare yourself for what types of questions you will be asked and what to bring with you.  Here are my suggestions for what to bring.
  • A Good Attitude (this may seem like a no brainer but someone who is upbeat and cheerful stands out much more than someone who seems less than eager, I know it is hard when you are nervous but try to think positive! You will be working with children which requires a tremendous amount of energy so we were always looking for candidates that seemed like they could roll with the punches and make it through a school year without getting burned out)
  • Your Resume (be sure your resume has up to date contact information and relevant experience. Also, try to limit it to one page, front and back is fine but when it has to be stapled that may be too much for a potential employer to keep up with)
  • A notebook (asking questions is a great idea and further down I give some examples, you'll want a notebook to record the answers to your questions)
  • A portfolio
Portfolios: I brought a binder portfolio that we had to make in college and now I know more are learning towards a digital portfolio.  I honestly have mixed feelings about this one, no principal ever looked at my portfolio, but I do know some that do so I wanted to leave this in just in case.  If nothing else it will be way to provide examples of work/lesson plans/parent communication if you are asked.  In this case I would prefer the binder option to the digital but bringing both would probably be your best bet. Some helpful things to include in your portfolio are:
  • your resume
  • standardized scores (Praxis and any state specific testing)
  • transcripts
  • a copy of your diploma (if you have it yet, many graduates don't get this until the summer)
  • valid teaching license (again, if you have it, many graduates don't get this until after graduation)
  • examples of student work
  • examples of lesson plans
  • examples of parent communication
  • examples/description/pictures of your classroom management system
  • classroom pictures of activities that you created/carried out with your students
  • letters of recommendation
Sample Interview Questions: The following are questions that I was asked or that I know we have asked when interviewing for potential new team members.  Be prepared to interview with the school's principal and a team of teachers.  Even if we weren't sure where the new employee would be in terms of grade level we still had a team of teachers that sat in on the interviews.

  • Tell me about your experiences and why you are interested in working at our school.
  • What would you say are your overall strengths/weaknesses?
  • What grade level are you most comfortable with, K-2 or 3-5?  (Try not to limit yourself to one grade level especially if you really want to work at a certain school.  You can give your comfort zone but be willing to move wherever is needed, you are most likely not going to get your dream grade level on your first try, but you never know!)
  • Describe the types of after school activities/ in school duties you were involved in during your previous experience.
  • Tell me how literacy block works in your classroom (whole group, small group, centers/stations).
  • What are your experiences with the Common Core State Standards?
  • What types of assessments are you familiar with (Accelerated Reading, AIMS web, Diebels, mClass Reading 3D, End of Grade testing, etc.)?
  • What ways do you use differentiation to meet the needs of each child in your classroom?
  • What types of technology are you familiar/comfortable with?
  • Describe your classroom management system.
  • How do you develop and foster positive relationships with parents?
  • What types of parent communication have you used or would like to use?
  • What else would you like to tell us about your previous experiences?
Questions You Should Ask: As much as you may want a job, it's important that the school is a good fit for you as much as you are for the school.  Don't be afraid to ask questions, some of the answers to these questions will drastically change the course of your daily schedule and you will want to know about them.
  • What is the average class size?
  • What is a typical daily schedule like? 
  • Do the students have resource classes each day (Art, Music, PE)?
  • Will I be expected to teach the resource subjects or will these students have a resource teacher?
  • What is the exceptional children/special education program like at this school?  Are students typically pulled-out for instruction or are they included in the general education classroom?
  • Will I have a teaching assistant? (This was a new one for me, we didn't have TA's in Virginia but North Carolina does)
  • What percentage of the teaching assistant's time will be spent with me?
  • Does this school have teaching assistants for special education students? (Again, this was different in Virginia vs. North Carolina.  In Virginia inclusion was big among special education students but they typically had a one-on-one assistant in the room with me to help, in North Carolina pull-out instruction is more common and we don't have many assistants for special education students with the exception of self-contained classrooms)
  • When are student meetings (IEP, Child Study, Student Services, etc.) held?
  • What type of after school/in school duties will I be responsible for?  
  • How are extreme behavior/discipline problems handled?
  • What types of technology are available to teachers and/or students?
  • Will there be designated planning time during the day for grade levels or is all planning done before/after school? 
  • Will I be assigned a mentor to help me learn the ins/outs of the school/district?
After the Interview: Following up is very important, it now only lets the principal know you really want the job but also that you are responsible and have good interpersonal skills.  Sending thank you cards are always a good idea.  This goes above and beyond, but it will definitely make you stand out to that principal. If the principal gives you a time frame on when you are likely to hear back, wait until that has passed.  If it has passed and you haven't heard anything give the principal a call/e-mail thanking them for their time and inquiring about wether or not the position has been filled. Don't be afraid to go on other interviews.  Some principals just get swamped with resumes and want to give everyone a fair shot, so it takes some time interviewing each candidate.  It doesn't hurt to interview at other schools and see what else is out there.  But, like I said above try not accept any job offers until you have slept on it.  You don't want to make the mistake of accepting and then getting stuck somewhere that you don't want to be. 

I know I haven't touched on EVERYTHING that may come up in an interview but I hope this gives you a good starting place.  If you were asked something in an interview that I left out please leave it in the comments section for others to know. Good luck and happy job hunting!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great tips! I've been teaching for 10 years but it has been 8 since I last looked for a job. I need this!

Lindsay said...

Was your portfolio fancy???

Deana said...

My portfolio was just a 1inch binder but I did put the pages in page protectors and tried to take as many pictures as I could so there was a few scrapbook-like pages. The rest was just the normal papers though. Hope that helps! : )

SarahBeth0898 said...

My least favorite question of all times: "Tell me about yourself..." I NEVER know how to answer this.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. It is very helpful.

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